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Model Ordinance to Regulate Drones Locally Now Available

The National League of Cities recommends that cities guard against reckless and privacy-violating use of drones.

by / September 2, 2016

The federal government is regulating drones like never before. It’s asking for the owners of all unmanned aerial vehicles weighing more than half a pound to register them, and it’s declared that it can preempt state and local rules.

But the National League of Cities (NLC) has published a way for municipalities to take some control of their own when it comes to drones. On Aug. 16, the organization published a model ordinance for cities aimed at giving officials the power to monitor their use, protect privacy and punish recklessness.

The ordinance includes a definition for unmanned aircraft as well as a delegation of authority to city managers to regulate drones operated within city limits that weight at least half a pound. The language calls for drone operators to notify the city electronically every time they use the drone, with some exceptions. Repeated use of a drone in the same place for a limited amount of time wouldn’t require repeated notification, for example, and the ordinance includes an option for the city to exempt notification requirements in certain places such as parks.

Operators using a drone on their own property would also be exempt, so long as they don’t violate anyone’s privacy or break any other rules.

The ordinance also lays out fines for failing to notify the city of operation, using unmanned aircraft recklessly and for breaking any other regulations the city puts forth. On the whole, it generally guides city managers to regulate drones along the same lines the Supreme Court allows government to regulate free speech — by restricting the time, place or manner of their use.

In a report accompanying the model ordinance, the NLC noted that the Federal Aviation Administration’s preemption authority doesn’t cover everything. For example, the FAA has included in its provisions that “state law and other legal protections may already provide recourse for a person whose individual privacy, data privacy, private property rights, or intellectual property rights may be implicated by a remote pilot’s civil or public use of a [drone].”

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